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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

God, Satan, or Man?

When we find ourselves stricken with a tragedy of the magnitude like what occurred on September 11, 2001, the inevitable question which arises in the minds of believers is: Was it God, Satan, or Man?

I have heard this question addressed by theologians, preachers, philosophers, and the “man on the street.” Some have said it was the Devil, others have said it was God, while others have ascribed it to “an act of wicked men.” Well, which is it? How should we, as Bible believing Christians, respond to this question?

The theological term for dealing with this question of "why a good God permits evil?" is called "theodicy". It is a question that theologians have wrestled with and sought to resolve down through the centuries. Augustine and Irenaeus sought to provide answers, as did Jonathan Edwards. Some have tried to resolve it by denying the sovereignty of God, such as Rabbi Kushner in his book on "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People."

I find the book of Job, which most scholars contend is the oldest book in the Bible, helpful in addressing this perplexing issue. In the very beginning of the book, we find the blameless and upright Job stricken with a tragedy of staggering proportions. Satan, eager to attack Job’s integrity, manages to wreck havoc upon all of Job’s possessions, ruining all that he owns, driving the Chaldeans to steal his flocks, even killing his children. In the midst of this crisis, which suddenly “slammed” into Job’s life, he makes a surprising statement. Job’s response was one of faith in a sovereign God, and his instinctive declaration is one of worship and adoration. He exclaimed, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

It would be hard to find a more striking affirmation of trust in the utter sovereignty of Almighty God than this – especially in a moment of such extreme devastating loss. John Calvin, commenting on this incident, asked the question: How may we attribute this same work to God, to Satan, and to man as author, without excusing Satan as associated with God, or making God the author of evil?” Calvin’s answer to this question is quite simple.

Calvin points out that there are three different purposes involved in Job’s trial. God’s purpose was to exercise Job’s patience; Satan’s purpose was to cause Job to curse God and cast away his faith; and the Chaldeans were simply out for Job’s property.

Calvin also noted that there is a difference in the manner of the actors in this drama. The Lord sovereignly allowed Satan to afflict His servant, demonstrating that believers are not exempt from Satan’s attacks. God then handed over the Chaldeans to be driven by Satan, having chosen them as his instrument to accomplish this task. Satan then stirred the wicked minds of the Chaldeans, who went forth to commit the criminal deed. They therefore are fully responsible for their evil actions, and come under God’s judgment. In another sense, we can see how Satan acted in the minds of the Chaldeans, and he bears eternal responsibility for his actions.

God, on the other hand, is also said to act in His own way. Satan, who is the unwilling instrument of God, is used to test Job according to God’s eternal purpose. As John Calvin stated, “We see no inconsistency in attributing the same act to God, Satan, and man; but the distinction in purpose and manner causes God’s righteousness to shine forth blamelessly, while the wickedness of Satan and man betrays itself by its own disgrace.”

Calvin made the observation that “certainty about God’s providence helps us in all adversities.” It has been said that, “God’s providence is our confidence.” Remember the example of Joseph, who was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers, but saw the hand of God in this event and all that followed. He remarked to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Likewise, Job recognized the providential work of God in the acts of the Chaldeans. In same manner, we must look beyond the actions of wicked men and their dastardly deeds, to see the God of eternal purposes.

Benjamin B. Warfield, a premier theologian of the 19th century, wrote in his classic Biblical and Theological Studies: “In the infinite wisdom of our Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His eternal plan; nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its peculiar fitness in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise.”

If we look only at the acts of men, or ascribe to the Devil the ability to operate outside of God’s control, we may easily give into despair. But if we keep in mind that even the worst acts of sinful men are completely under our sovereign, loving God, we will never give into despair. Even the worst sin ever committed against God in human history was done entirely according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:23).

May God enable us, amidst all the acts of sinful men, and all the frustrations of life, to keep our confidence in His providence. Remember that nothing touches your life, or my life, unless it passes through the hand of God.

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